QUEENSBURY - Converting the former Warren County jail into temporary housing for people now being put up in hotels at county expense may not only save $500,000 per year, but it would likely cut down on crime, county District Attorney Kate Hogan said Tuesday, June 2.
County leaders have been angry that drug dealers claiming poverty were shacking up in upscale hotels in Queensbury and Lake George at taxpayer expense and selling heroin substitutes, according to reports by county law enforcement agents.
Hogan said yesterday that this new proposal to convert the empty jail to apartment-style housing would cut down on such illegal activity, because no drug dealer would operate with dozens of law enforcement officers housed nearby in the new Public Safety building. This facility houses the new, expanded, modern jail which in 2004 replaced the old one that now stands empty.
County leaders heard a proposal last week from Hogan and county Commissioner of Social Services Sheila Weaver to rebuild the jail to slash the cost of housing people who are temporarily homeless, unable to pay rent and seek housing assistance. Last year, Warren County paid $500,000 for such temporary assistance, Hogan said.
"Those people now milking the county and using taxpayers' money for a hotel room to set up drug dealing, will have nothing to do with housing converted from jail cells," Hogan said. "But those in legitimate need would have a clean place to stay, where they can get up in the morning and look for a job."
About two months ago, Weaver and law enforcement agents alerted county supervisors that some drug dealers, who claim to be homeless, are illegally obtaining multiple prescriptions of pain killers Oxycontin, Vicodin and Hydrocodone at government expense on Medicaid cards and selling it for a profit out of posh hotel rooms paid for by local taxpayers.
County officials expressed outrage at the time, and decided to hire a part-time police officer to coordinate efforts to track down and prosecute the criminals.
That officer coordinating the crackdown program, former Glens Falls police investigator Kevin Conine, started his new job with the county last week.
Warren County investigator Steve Stockdale had reported that local undercover agents were tracking drug sales occurring out of a variety of hotels and motels by up to two dozen dealers, some of whom invited their cohorts from the Capital Region.
He said that the dealers were local welfare recipients put up in the hotels for months at taxpayer expense, while receiving food stamps and some, cash assistance from the county.
Weaver has noted that under state guidelines, her Social Service Department is providing benefits to people who meet rigorous qualifications, including conducting intensive job searches, taking self-sufficiency courses and undergoing drug treatment, if needed.
Some people claiming homelessness however, have been able to stay in hotels for up to 19 months at taxpayer expense, she said.
Sheila said her department pays $30 to $50 per night for the rooms - or $900 to $1,500 per month - plus up to $137 cash per month in benefits.
Conine will be investigating Medicaid fraud and tracking down illegal multiple prescriptions, while others track the offenders' movements, Hogan said.
County officials endorsed funding the post for six months, then renewing it if it resulted in prosecutions, drug seizures and restitution - and lowered numbers of "homeless" staying in hotels.